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3 players the Chiefs can use for the ‘Mecole Hardman’ role

The Chiefs’ offense has had a role for the departed playmaker the last four seasons, so where do those snaps go?

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Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

We're a couple of weeks into Kansas City Chiefs training camp, and the new version of the team is coming into the picture.

On offense, one of the most significant changes to the unit's aesthetic will be the absence of wide receiver Mecole Hardman. His game-breaking speed led to a special role for the Chiefs, which isn't necessarily replaceable — but the plays he was featured in aren't disappearing from the playbook.

Kansas City's offense will still weaponize their playmakers from the slot, but it could look different than in the past. Wide receiver Kadarius Toney will be sidelined for the foreseeable future, so I highlighted three other wide receivers that could be featured in that way:

Skyy Moore

Before wide receiver Kadarius Toney's injury, Skyy Moore was projected as the starting "Z" receiver while Toney handled the slot — but Moore has slid in there, with veteran Justin Watson coming in at Z.

That means we've seen Moore as the primary player for jet sweeps and the quick-swing passes to the flat; any designed touch to get a player quickly into open space. With head coach Andy Reid scheming it up, those plays have a high floor of success — but in the past, Hardman also gave the plays a high ceiling.

Moore may not have the same long speed as Hardman, but he has great acceleration and is harder to bring down with arm tackles. He may raise the floor even higher for these plays, as he's more of a running back with the ball in his hands and might break tackles of defensive backs more often than Hardman did.

However, I believe Moore can break out in the Chiefs' offense as a dynamic receiver, one that can do much more than what Hardman has provided this team.

Richie James

Free-agent signing Richie James is also a primary candidate to fulfill the role, someone who played from the slot on 85% of his pass snaps last season. He can make the quick cuts in the open field that can be necessary in those spots, but doesn't have the long speed of Hardman or Moore; he ran a 4.48-second 40-yard dash as a draft prospect.

However, James has shown he can fill the role of the wildcat quarterback among the receivers. Over the last few seasons, we've seen Hardman take direct snaps from the center — and James has done that on at least three occasions in training camp.

Rashee Rice

The sleeper candidate here is the rookie receiver Rashee Rice, who has a noticeably bigger build than the other two on this list. At the NFL Combine in March, he measured in at nearly 6 feet 1 and 204 pounds, with arm length in the 72nd percentile of receiver prospects historically.

Yet, Rice's size didn't hamper his acceleration: he recorded a 1.49-second 10-yard was in the 93rd percentile. He also had good explosive numbers in general, showing off a 41-inch vertical leap and a broad jump of 10 feet 8 inches.

This points to Rice having the burst as a ball carrier necessary for the position, something I mentioned with Moore. It can be hard on cornerbacks and safeties to bring down explosive players with size to them, and the Chiefs understand that. It's why we've seen them use Rice in the slot on jet sweeps and quick passes so far in training camp.

The sneaky reason Rice may man the slot more than you think? His blocking ability. One trend we see from modern offense is using the slot receiver in the same way the team would use an off-ball tight end or fullback, leading to a personnel advantage. The Chiefs dipped into that with wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster last season.

In Saturday's practice at training camp, a team period focused on the run game — and Rice was featured more often than usual in condensed formations, using him to kick out a linebacker coming down on the edge or seal a second-level defender on a misdirection handoff.

Rice is the most built slot receiver on the team, so he may earn his way to playing time by buying into that.

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